I Would Recommend If You Like: Caesar, Theme Hospital, Zoo Tycoon
Pharaoh is perhaps my favourite simulation game ever (not including The Sims games themselves) - it's one of the most balanced games of the genre. The Cleopatra expansion adds a few a bit more to the experience, but Pharaoh alone is every bit as enjoyable as the two games together.
As with most sim games, the plot is there purely to direct the level progression. Pharaoh chronicles the rise of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation, with you taking the helm as the leader of villages, towns and cities as the country rises to power. Historically the plot is more or less accurate, doing its best to emulate the events in Ancient Egypt as accurately as possible, but doesn't worry itself on being completely factual.
There are several points in the game where there are two directions to go in the story - this allows you to play the game in the way you prefer. Usually the decision is between running a city that is war-torn, focusing on battles and city-defence, or leading a city that deals with more domestic matters - food supply, imports/exports, earning money and building a sophisticated and successful city.
There aren't any definitive characters to speak of in Pharaoh; the only people you'll come in contact with are the residents of the area you're running. You're able to click on these characters to see how well they think you're doing your job, usually focusing on a specific area relative to their profession. For example, people working in the bazaar will comment on food supplies, fire-men will point out if the city isn't sufficiently covered by fire-houses, and jugglers will discuss the availability and quality of entertainment in the city.
Character design is designed by the person's role in the city - so all newcomers look identical to each other, as do all the dancers, judges, teachers, etc. This is the ideal set-up in a sim game as it allows you to check-up on your performance in a certain area quickly by consulting the opinion of a character in the appropriate profession. Different character types are easily distinguishable from each other, so you shouldn't have any trouble tracking down specific ones.
Characters are voiced which is a nice little bonus - they do have a limited number of phrases per type though, so you'll get a little sick of hearing the same lines of dialogue over and over again. There is an option to turn speech off if you get sick of it.
Pharaoh's premise is simple, on each level you are left in charge of the building and maintenance of a town or city. You are responsible for every aspect of life in this area - infrastructure, crops, imports/exports, education, health - pretty much everything you can think of. You'll need to balance the books as well as keep the residents happy and you also have your reputation to think about, which will fall and rise depending on how well you run your city.
One of the most difficult parts of the game is keeping employment rates at an ideal level. What makes it so difficult is this; imagine you need to bring in more immigrants to fill job vacancies. To do this you need to build more houses, which require services such as water supply, medical facilities, schools, etc. These in themselves require jobs, so when the immigrants come they take these jobs, leaving you exactly where you started. The solution to overcoming this is building the highest quality housing, which requires access to as many facilities as possible, so you'll find yourself in a very delicate balancing act of bringing enough people in to fill all your job vacancies.
Another important aspect of Ancient Egyptian life is, of course, religion. You'll need to build temples, shrines and hold festivals in the name of your patron gods. If you fail to please them the consequences can be dire, as they will wreak revenge on your city. However if you prove your loyalty, they are sure to reward you in their area of jurisdiction - for example, Osiris will guarantee better inundations, improving crop yield.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the game is that is occasionally doesn't offer enough of a certain good to supply your entire city. This is most serious when it's food that you can't provide your citizens as housing will quickly downgrade, leading to people having to move out and leaving you without enough workers to carry out money-making services. If you don't have the means of growing your own crops and have to import them instead, this can lead to a vicious circle as you can't import the much-needed food if you don't have workers making money for you. Cases such as these are where the real challenge of the game comes in.
You'll need to worry about more than just what's happening inside your city. There's a whole country out there, and you need to maintain good relations with neighbouring cities. You can create trade routes for importing and exporting goods and you also have to create armies and defence infrastructure in case you are attacked by rival cities. Cities in trouble may ask for you to send goods or money to help them out, not honouring these pleas for help will damage your reputation. You're also expected to keep on the Pharaoh's good side by sending lavish gifts that are paid for out of your salary. This creates an extra challenge as these gifts are expensive, but if you take a salary that exceeds that of your current status, your own people and neighbouring cities will not be very impressed.
You have a menu in which your advisors will give you counsel of how well you're doing in particular areas. There's advice on where and how you can improve, and you can also find break-downs on annual income and expenditure and check how close you are to fulfilling the level objectives.
The game has a fairly shallow learning curve. You begin with very few facilities to run and more and more are steadily added so you gradually gain more responsibilities. Whilst the beginning levels are extremely easy, some of later ones are very difficult and will take a lot of time and effort to beat. There are various levels of difficulty which you can change mid-game at any points you wish, so you can make things a little easier or a bit more challenging as you require.
The campaign itself offers many hours of gameplay; it'll probably take you quite a long time to beat the game. You are also able to play any levels infinitely, so on paper the game has infinite gameplay potential - but you'll probably get bored pretty quickly once you've built in all the available space.
The background music in Pharaoh is pretty good - it tries to imitate the kind of music you'd expect from the location and time period. It doesn't vary very much though and only plays when you're looking at an active part of your city - if you scroll over to areas where you haven't built anything the music stops. It's fairly catchy and fits the game but you might get a bit sick of it after playing for a while. Like the voices you are able to turn the music off.
It's a fairly old game and as with many sims tries to keep things as simple as possible. Proportions are thrown completely out of the window, as the people are often bigger than the buildings they navigate between - this was probably done to keep things practical, as it would be difficult to select very small characters.
The style's a mix of cartoony and realistic and is fairly pleasing to look at. You can see the people working away at their various crafts and are quickly able to see whether a particular building is currently inactive as it will be empty of workers. All buildings that carry the same function identical, once again as a practicality - you'll often want to do a quick sweep of your city and check whether it has an adequate coverage of a certain facility or service.
I have found that sometimes when you click on a character the voice clip doesn't play. This isn't too much of a problem and doesn't happen too often but it is slightly annoying. Apart from that I've not had any problems with the game.
Who Is This Game Suitable For?
Pretty much anyone can play this game. There's no blood, no coarse language and no adult content. There are battles between armies but they can hardly be said to be violent. There shouldn't be anything to upset small children, so I'd say it's suitable for all ages. It is rated E for everyone.
It's worth mentioning that you shouldn't have any problems playing this game on newer computer systems, despite being an old game. I highly recommend this game for sim game enthusiasts, but it won't be at all appealing to those who only play RPG's or FPS's.
Read all 1 Reviews
Write a Review